Storm Tower co-owner Tornetta dies at age 63 Gravely ill, he flew to see horse win Wood

April 26, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, KY. -- Anthony Tornetta had a passion for owning and betting on racehorses.

So much so that when he was close to death 10 days ago, h chartered a special hospital plane from his winter home in Turnberry Isle, Fla., and flew to New York to see the colt, Storm Tower, that he owned in partnership with his long-time friend, Charles Hesse III, win the Wood Memorial.

Now, just a week before the horse runs in the Kentucky Derby Tornetta has died.

He died Saturday night at his home, Whitpain Farm, in Blue Ball Pa., at age 63. He will be buried Wednesday, the day before Derby entries are officially drawn at Churchill Downs.

Storm Tower, who has been based at the Bowie Training Center is Maryland's hope in the Kentucky Derby and will be ridden by Pimlico-based Rick Wilson, who lives in Sykesville.

At the Wood, Tornetta was so ill from the cancer he had been battling for three years that he was accompanied by an intensive care nurse.

"He was so sick, and in such severe pain, that only a guy lik Tony would have fought so hard to be there," said Ben Perkins Sr., who helps his son, Ben Jr., manage Storm Tower's career. "But he just loved the races so much. That was his thing in life. Sometimes he'd hop a train in Philadelphia and come to see his horses run at Pimlico or Laurel. Other times he'd arrive in a limousine or Rolls Royce and arrange to take everybody to dinner.

"At the Wood, he knew what was going on and he knew he ha won. But he just wasn't himself."

Hesse originally purchased Storm Tower in Florida as an unrace 2-year-old for $245,000. At that time he offered half of the horse to his friend.

Tornetta balked, but after Storm Tower won his second caree start this winter, Hesse again offered him half interest and Tornetta put up the money.

"It was a wonderful gesture on Charley's part," Perkins said. "H could have sold that half for eight or 10 times what Tony paid. But Charley didn't do it for the money. He did it just so Tony would have something to look forward to."

Tornetta's death won't affect Storm Tower's starting status i the Derby. Official ownership will appear on the Kentucky Derby program as it has previously appeared. The horse runs under the Char-Mari Stable ownership, named for Hesse and his wife, Marianne. Perkins said that Tornetta's wife, Rita, will assume her deceased husband's half interest in Storm Tower.

Tornetta, who owned the Keystone Mack truck dealership i Conshohocken, Pa., once hauled asbestos for his father's trucking firm. "That's how he got cancer, although it took years and years for it to build up," Perkins said. "His doctors in Florida told him that he had lived longer than anyone else they had diagnosed with that type of cancer. He was a special guy.

"If Storm Tower has as much determination and guts as Tony then he's going to be in good shape for the Derby."

Jenny Craig's buying spree

She's at it again.

Diet guru Jenny Craig, who caused something of a sensatio when she purchased Dr Devious for $2 million just weeks before the Derby last year, has bought another last-minute contender.

She and her husband, Sidney, are purchasing Wood Memoria runner-up Tossofthecoin to run in Saturday's race.

For good measure, the Craigs have bought Ashland Stake winner Lunar Spook in order to have a filly to start Friday in the Kentucky Oaks.

No prices for the two horses have been given, but it's reporte to be about $1.3 million for the pair.

Dr Devious finished seventh in the 1992 Derby for the Craigs, bu then won the English Derby in their silks about a month later. The Craigs more than recouped their investment when they sold the horse at the end of the year for $6 million for stud duty in Japan.

Grand Jewel heads for Preakness

William S. Farish III's Grand Jewel, winner of the Lexington Stakes, will bypass the Derby and make his next start in the Preakness Stakes.

The horse joins Federico Tesio winner Woods of Windsor a prominent 3-year-olds who are bypassing the Churchill Downs race to take on the Derby winner in Baltimore.

Despite Grand Jewel's defection, 20 horses are still expected t be in Saturday's lineup.

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